“You’ve never been to New Zealand before?” The question popped up repeatedly whenever we met someone on our first visit to New Zealand.
Despite Australia’s island neighbour being only a three-hour flight from Sydney, we’d never taken advantage of its close proximity. As we travelled Relais and Chateaux’s very aptly named Route de Bonheur – or ‘route of happiness’ – that saw us taking Air New Zealand flights over breathtaking landscapes between some of the most luxurious lodges we’d ever stayed in, we wondered why we waited so long.
Visitors to Australia tend to come away impressed at the variety of the landscapes, but after our eight-day trip to both the North and South Islands of this country with four million people and 40 million sheep, we concluded that New Zealand’s scenery was truly spectacular and New Zealanders were some of the most hospitable people in the world.
While we had overcast weather on the North Island, our first stop Huka Lodge in Taupo was a splendid place to sit by the fire and take in the moody surrounds while sipping New Zealand’s fantastic wines. A morning spent with a Maori local introduced us to Maori history, culture and society – and the amazing Lake Taupo, the largest lake in New Zealand.
While the dreary weather continued and our inability to snag a legal-sized trout for a sashimi starter for dinner was a setback, the lodge with its raging river and countless birds just outside the door made me long to just settle in here for a few days.
Our luck with the weather improved on the morning we left Taupo to head for the adventure capital of Queenstown in the southwest of the South Island. The approach to landing in the city was dramatic, our aircraft weaving its way through snow-capped mountains, where we could actually see ski lifts operating.
The drive to our resort was less adrenaline inducing, but just as stunning – the lake and mountain views around Lake Wakatipu are postcard perfect. The only thing spoiling the illusion of the flawless reflections on the lake were the ripples left from the TSS Earnslaw, a freshly renovated steamship that criss-crosses the lake just as it did for the last 100 years, and shares a birthday with the ill-fated Titanic.
Matakauri Lodge was our home here and the views from our room across the lake towards the ski fields of The Remarkables were just that –remarkable. The next day we opted for something more gentle than the adventure tourism on offer around town and headed to the nearby wineries in the Central Otago wine region. With a growing reputation for its Pinot Noir and Chardonnay, a wine tour here rewards you with not only superb wines, but also splendid scenery, especially driving through the Gibbston Valley.
One of our final stops for the day was Bald Hills Wines, where owner and raconteur Blair Hunt eloquently described his award-winning wines. In 2007, Bald Hills Wines stunned the worldwide wine community by winning the International Wine Challenge in London with its 2005 Pinot Noir, beating out 4,761 other red wines judged in the competition.
The next morning, feeling a little fuzzy after a long dinner, we headed to the airport for a little excursion to Milford Sound, a ‘must-do’ half-day trip from Queenstown. While we were not intending to do any adventure tourism activities, the flight to this World Heritage site proved to be quite an adventure as our light plane dodged low cloud and lofty snow-capped peaks. The views, however, were impressive, with improbably located lakes nestled between mountain ranges and glacial fed rivers snaking through the trees below the snowline.
Once we reached the object of our attention, we boarded a boat to take us out to the Tasman Sea through the spectacular fiord that is home to two permanent waterfalls, as well as dolphins, seals and penguins. When we weren’t scanning the horizon for the locals, we were craning our necks to see the tops of the spectacular peaks of the Fiordland National Park.
On our way back to Queenstown, the clouds had lifted and once again the scenery of snow-capped mountains was so magnificent it was almost surreal.
Next week, part 2 of our ‘route of happiness’ through New Zealand continues…
If New Zealand is a bit chilly for you, see our posts from sultry Malaysia, from Kota Kinabalu and Kualu Lumpur, as well as our KL City Guide
This post was written by our Lara Dunston and Terence Carter of http://grantourismotravels.com, with whom InsureandGo has a special partnership. We would like to thank Lara and Terence very much for sharing their passion for travel. If you would like to contribute to our blog by sharing your travel experiences with us, please contact us at email@example.com.
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Places: New Zealand